SI's 2015 College Basketball All-Stars
With the NBA All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, it's time for the second annual edition of SI.com's college basketball All-Star team, in which two of our college basketball experts pick a 10-man roster via a snake draft. This year, writer Chris Johnson and producer David Gardner face off, with senior writer Luke Winn returning to judge the winner. Gardner won a coin flip for the first pick. Read on to see the teams and the champion.
I know I’ll get a lot of flak for not taking Jahlil Okafor with the No. 1 pick, but I’ve been putting Kaminsky ahead of Okafor in Wooden Watch since early January, and I’m nothing if not consistent. Kaminsky is a better defender, even at the rim, and he’s a threat to score from the perimeter and the post. I have nothing negative to say about Okafor; I just think Kaminsky is the best player in college basketball this season.
With the No. 1 pick, you took the top option on the nation’s No. 1 offense. I’ll take the top option on the nation’s No. 2 offense. While some have pointed to Okafor’s defense as a potential concern at the next level, that doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s one of the most dominant post players to enter college basketball over the last decade. He’s so powerful and skilled that to stop Okafor your team is going to need to bend its defense in ways that facilitates scoring opportunities for other players on my team.
Okafor and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell (stay tuned) have dominated the freshmen spotlight, but it would be silly to overlook Johnson. He’s a capable defender, rebounds on both ends and draws fouls at a high rate. The Wildcats have dipped from first to fifth in Kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency from a year ago, but Johnson has helped their offense leap from 20th to 12th. After taking the projected No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft in Round 1, I’m “settling” for a projected top-five pick in Round 2.
With No. 1, I went for the best offensive player in the country. With No. 2, I’m going with the best defender. Cauley-Stein is the defensive mirror of Kaminsky, actually; he is lethal in the post and can step out and defend guards as well. I hear the concerns about his offense, but as you’ll see, my team will have plenty of firepower.
Wright does everything for Utah, and he can be the go-to guy on my team as well. Apart from his 14.3 points and 5.4 assists per game, I also like his ability to snag long rebounds (he gets 4.5 boards a game) and create turnovers (2.3 steals a game). He’ll be able to facilitate the offense and lock down Chris’ point guard.
Johnson: D’Angelo Russell, freshman guard, Ohio State
Russell is probably the most entertaining player in the country. He whips ridiculous bounceback passes, crosses defenders into knots and calmly drains stepback threes. Russell is also an efficient scorer and distributor who can provide a strong perimeter complement to Okafor -- that is, in the event your team manages to slow down 2015’s top frontcourt NBA prospect.
Johnson: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, sophomore forward, Arizona
Your team added a skilled shot blocker and effective turnover creator in Cauley-Stein in Round 2, but Hollis-Jefferson will boost my team’s defense. With Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson on the floor together, there’s a strong chance any non-Kaminsky offense you attempt to generate will be short-circuited. My team still lacks a rim protector, but at this point it looks stout on both ends of the floor.
While Chris is busy making his way through Arizona’s starting five, I’m trying to assemble a diverse roster. With Wright already running the point, Grant will be free to play off the ball and shoot or slash his way to the rim. They are two of the best passers in the country, so I also like their ability to get the ball into my big men in the post. While Grant is no stud defensively, I like his ability to defend the second best guard on Chris’ team with a pair of 7-footers to fall back on if something goes wrong.
Among high-usage players (those who use 28% of possessions or more), Tuttle is the third-most efficient player in the country. He uses 29% of UNI’s possessions with an offensive rating of 121.0. Imagine how helpful he’ll be on a team where he’s the fifth man on the scouting report. I’ll look to him to clean up the boards (21.1 defensive rebounding percentage), draw fouls (he draws 6.6 per 40 minutes) and take smart shots when he has the right looks.
Johnson: Karl Anthony-Towns, freshman center, Kentucky
Towns has elevated his play over the last month, and he scored 31 points and grabbed 21 rebounds combined in back-to-back games to help Kentucky beat Florida and LSU earlier this month. While it would be difficult for anyone at the college level to completely shut down Kaminsky, Towns is the leading shot-blocker for the best defensive team in the country. He’s also a strong rebounder on both ends and provides another frontcourt scoring option in addition to Okafor.
Now that my team’s defense is fortified, it’s time to bolster the offense. Wiltjer is a perfect fit, as he’s scored at an efficient rate while using more possessions than any other Gonzaga player this season. More importantly, Wiltjer will help space the floor because he can really shoot. Over 26 games this season, the 6'10" junior has knocked down 44.3 percent of his 97 attempts from beyond the arc.
Gardner: Kevin Pangos, senior guard, Gonzaga
Pangos is a pass-first, pass-second then maybe shoot-third point guard. His offensive rating (136.8) is best in the country and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.8-to-1.4 is astounding. The fact that I can bring him off my bench is incredible. Oh, and when Pangos does shoot, he knows how to pick ‘em -- his true shooting percentage of 67.4 is 10th in the country. If the game is on the line, there’s a chance I’d turn to him.
Christmas can’t play in the NCAA tournament because of Syracuse’s self-serving, self-imposed postseason ban. But NCAA be damned, he’ll still get drafted onto this All-Star team. Christmas is perhaps the most improved player in the country. He is scoring 11.9 more points and hauling in 4.1 more rebounds per game this season than he was a year ago. And the fact that he plays 34.1 minutes per game for Syracuse gives me the comfort of knowing I can keep my big men fresh in the rotation.
Johnson: Devin Booker, freshman guard, Kentucky
The least-heralded member of Kentucky’s recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, is by far the team's best three-point shooter. During conference play, Booker has connected on 48.8 percent of his treys while posting the highest offensive rating of any Wildcat, per Kenpom.com. He and Wiltjer provide the perimeter firepower my team needs to stretch your team’s defense to its breaking point. Also, John Calipari recently commended Booker for his defensive intensity.
Anderson is set to miss the next few weeks because of a fractured finger, but he’s eligible to be drafted for our teams. This season, Anderson has knocked down 48.4 percent of his threes while helping Virginia’s packline defense rank second nationally in Kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Even if my team employs a different defensive scheme, Anderson can help shut down your perimeter offense by hounding ball handlers and walling off driving lanes.
Earlier this year, I ranked Portis the best sophomore in college basketball. The Razorbacks’ big man has been the key to their remarkable run to the NCAA tournament this season. He has improved almost every area of his game, and he gives me yet another solid 6’10”-plus player to wear down Chris’ frontcourt.
Alexander, like his fellow freshman Kelly Oubre, took a little while to get adjusted to college basketball, but he’s been performing well in conference play. I drafted him primarily to clean up the glass for this team. He’s been Kansas’ best rebounder, despite the fact that he’s just 6’8”. His offensive rebounding percentage (13.3) is 56th in the country. And, like Tuttle, he draws a lot of fouls. I have a feeling I’ll be playing inside-out basketball in this hypothetical matchup.
Oklahoma lists Hield at 6'4", 212 pounds, but his wingspan measured 6'8.5" at the LeBron James Skills Academy last summer. Hield can lead the break, finish in transition and is athletic enough to guard most backcourt players. He’s also knocked down over 40 percent of his three-point attempts during conference play, which means I’m adding another proficient long-range shooter to a bench that already includes Kyle Wiltjer and Devin Booker.
The ACC’s top big man went off the board in the first round, but Harrell isn’t far behind. Though guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier have assumed prominent shot-creating roles in the Cardinals’ offense, Harrell is still scoring at a relatively efficient clip, swatting shots and crashing the offensive and defensive glass. And to think: Harrell is going to come off the bench, likely to replace another projected first-round pick in Okafor or Towns.
Gardner: Terry Rozier, sophomore guard, Louisville
I needed one more guard to complete my rotation, and Rozier fits the bill perfectly. He’d play very well with Pangos, as his true strength is slashing and scoring rather than distributing. While Chris Jones is chucking up every shot he can and Montrezl Harrell is dunking everything he can, Rozier has been Louisville’s most consistent scorer. If I need someone to create points, I know I can turn to Rozier.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Delon Wright, Utah
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Terry Rozier, Louisville
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Stanley Johnson, Arizona
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Karl Anthony-Towns, Kentucky
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Devin Booker, Kentucky
Justin Anderson, Virginia
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
The real winner here is … #Narrative. Both of you committed to contrasting draft philosophies for your first five picks, and thus any hypothetical game previews for a meeting of these hypothetical teams can fall neatly into an Experience-vs.-Talent framework, saving hypothetical journalists from having to think. Well done, guys!
Shall we dig deeper, though? Yes? OK. Gardner gets credit for building the better defense, which is a big deal. The Cauley-Stein/Kaminsky/Christmas/Portis foursome would do a fine job of protecting the rim, and Wright and Rozier, at least, are strong perimeter defenders. Gardner also stocked up on point/lead guards, giving himself three options who can run the team -- Wright, Grant and Pangos -- but also have an impact playing off the ball. I like the offensive versatility of his lineup, even if it has some shooting issues when Wright and Cauley-Stein are on the floor together.
As for Johnson: He shrewdly managed to get four of the top five likely picks in the NBA draft in the same lineup -- and the only one he's missing, Emmanuel Mudiay, is ineligible for this game because he's the (temporary) property of the Chinese Basketball Association. He has a stout rebounding crew in Okafor, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson. He also used picks 4-5-6 to grab three of the country's scariest long-range shooters in Wiltjer, Booker and Anderson. A lineup of those three plus Okafor and Russell would be so incredible offensively that its defensive weaknesses might not matter.
Johnson's team has the higher offensive ceiling, plus superior rebounding … but I'm inclined to take the team with the better defense, plus three excellent shot-creating guards in Wright, Pangos and Grant. Johnson's team only has one point guard -- Russell -- and despite his trick-pass arsenal, his mentality is still score-first. On a neutral court, Gardner's team wins by one on a Pangos three-pointer.